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Ogmore Castle

2 1/2m SW of Bridgend, south Wales

Map link for Ogmore Castle

Text copyright 1997 by Lise Hull and Cadw
Photographs copyright by Mike Williams

he southeastern coastline of Wales is its most industrialized region, and contains its largest cities, Cardiff and Swansea. The portion of the M4 motorway that tracks through the south of Wales, from the Severn Bridge to just a few miles west of Swansea, offers dramatically contrasting vistas and some of the most chaotic traffic to be found in Wales, thanks to the never-ending construction and the never-ending factories. It comes as quite a shock, then, to discover that this is also an area full of interesting historic and prehistoric relics. Indeed, the region known as South Glamorgan takes you away from the hustle and bustle of modern living, and sweeps you back in time to the Middle Ages, to the time when the Normans ruled the land and planted castles to ensure their dominion.

Bridgend sits about mid-way between Cardiff and Swansea, another, albeit smaller, city for the tourist to contend with, but one that is virtually surrounded by castles. To the east, Coity is part of a community of homes, and to the west are the castles of New Castle, Candleston, and Ogmore, built at the western limit of early Norman control. Of the latter three, the most impressive is Ogmore Castle, an extensive ruin settled along the lush grasses watered by the River Ewenny.

On a sunny afternoon, walking through the grounds, stepping across the river on the strategically placed line of stones, and climbing through the ruined castle brings the visitor an exhilarating sense of enchantment and serenity. The contrast between the surrounding landscape, which in some ways is atypical of most castle locations, and the tumbled-down stones of the medieval fortress is striking and creates an air of romance. An unusually charming feature of the site is the white-washed, thatched cottage which adjoins the grounds and is still occupied.

Ogmore Castle guards a major fording place into southern Wales, and sits on flat land rather than atop a ridge-crest where nature would have provided extra defense. From Ogmore and its sisters at Coity and Newcastle at Bridgend, Welsh access to this Norman lordship was effectively barred. The Normans made their claim to this area as early as 1116, when William de Londres established the first castle (a ringwork or motte) at the site. The surviving earthworks, encompassing an inner ward with a ditch that filled during high tide, may date to this original stronghold.

Not surprisingly, the earth and timber fortification was quickly reinforced with stone, and included a great keep, the remains of which may still be explored. Situated next to the entrance into the inner ward, this rectangular great tower was probably built by Maurice de Londres, William's son, soon after his father's death in 1126. Once rising three stories and 40 feet high, the structure is extensively ruined, but impressive nonetheless. The first story contained the great hall, with an ornate fireplace and elaborate windows. A staircase led from the hall to the floor above, which served as apartments for the lord and his family, and a trap-door opened from the hall down into the basement. A well-preserved latrine tower adjoins the residential complex.

Across the inner ward, opposite the keep, stands another 12th century structure. Only the cellar of this building remains, the steps leading to a vaulted passageway (shown at right). Interestingly, one of the stairs was constructed from a pre-Norman stone cross. An inscription has survived and relates the following: "Be it known to all that Artmail gave this estate to God and Glywys and Nertat and his daughter" (Robinson). The original stone is now on display in Cardiff, at the National Museum of Wales.

Most of the other construction at Ogmore dates from the 13th century, when the de Londres family still owned the fortress. New buildings were added as needed and included another great hall, once again containing apartments for the lord; an expansion of the curtain wall; and a new gatehouse, a simple structure located adjacent to the keep, its turret projecting into the outer ward. (The turret held additional latrines, accessed from the hall and the upper level of the keep.) Inside the inner ward are the foundations of several buildings, which probably included a hall block and additional accommodation. And, footings of the original drawbridge are visible alongside the gate passage between the inner and outer wards, as is a now-blocked postern gate. Additional buildings were constructed along the wall in the outer ward.

Ogmore Castle's history is fairly uneventful, and by the later Middle Ages, the castle ceased to have any real military worth. From the de Londres family, Ogmore and its surrounding estates passed in the late 13th century to Payn de Chaworth, lord of Kidwelly. The de Chaworth heiress, Matilda, married Henry, the Earl of Lancaster, in 1298, and, consequently, Ogmore became a part of the Duchy of Lancaster. It remains so to this day. In the 14th century, the castle became a center of administrative justice for the Earls of Lancaster, and several manorial buildings were constructed in the outer ward. The remains of a courthouse, a decayed limekiln, and foundations of other structures date from that period.

Fortunately, Ogmore Castle is now in the care of CADW: Welsh Historic Monuments, and is freely accessible to the public at any reasonable time. The site offers a pleasing respite from the congestion of the modern world, and is a fine place to enjoy a picnic. Seek it out when you are in the neighborhood!

 

Lise Hull owns and operates Castles of Britain, an information and research web site providing a wide range of information on the castles of Britain. Mrs. Hull has a Masters Degree in Historic Preservation, and has visited well over 160 castles in Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland. She welcomes any and all questions concerning the castles of Britain, and invites people to visit her web site or contact her directly via e-mail at: castlesu@aol.com.

 

The Lordship of Ogmore

From the Cadw guidebook for Coity, Ogmore & Newcastle castles

The lordship of Ogmore was one of the more prosperous of the constituent lordships of Glamorgan. It was, however, divided into two parts; part located in the upland or Blaenau Morgannwg, which remained strongly Welsh in character, and part in the lowland - Bro Morgannwg. It was here on the more fertile lands of the Vale, that Anglo-Norman settlement concentrated and a system of English tenure was introduced.

The ownership of land in Bro Morgannwg was vested in the lord of Ogmore, his immediate followers (what later became the gentry), as well as in the Church, especially nearby Ewenny Priory. Work on the land itself was undertaken by tenants, both free and unfree, and although it is likely that the majority of whose who farmed the land initially were Welsh, it was perhaps with good reason that the Bro gradually became known as the Englishry.

In return for their position, the lords of Ogmore owed feudal duties to their overlord, which included the service of four knights to Cardiff Castle. Likewise the tenants of the lords of Ogmore often held their lands in return for such duties - a pattern that persisted well into the 13th century, primarily because of the threat of Welsh attack. It was clearly a society organized for defence if not for war.

The 14th century witnessed profound changes to the lordship, when in 1345 it finally became part of what was to become the duchy of Lancaster, which controlled lands from Monmouth to Kidwelly in Wales, as well as large estates in England. In addition, there were a number of bad harvests, the Black Death of 1349 that led to the depopulation of many areas, and the Glyndwr uprising, which caused much damage to property.

Recovery was slow, though a smaller population meant that more land was available at cheaper rents and a number of men took full advantage this to become wealthy farmers. It was these far-sighted individuals together with those old established families that remained in the area, which formed the nucleus of the emerging Glamorgan gentry. With the new lords of Ogmore resident in England, it was left to the men on the ground to administer the estates, and it was these gentry families that were to play an increasing role in local and national affairs in the 15th and 16th centuries.

 

Castles and the Norman Conquest of Lowland Glamorgan

From the Cadw guidebook for Coity, Ogmore & Newcastle castles

King William I (1066-87) himself may have established the motte-and-bailey castle at Cardiff, at the time of his expedition to St Davids in 1081, and it was from here that what became the lordship of Glamorgan was administered. But Cardiff was not alone; immediately to the north and west of the castle there are a number of fortresses, which although undated, may have been established at about the same time. For how long these earth and timber castles remained in use is not known, but it seems likely that some of them were abandoned as the Normans moved further west into Glamorgan.

In the early stages of colonization the castles were first and foremost fortresses, secure bases from which the chief and lesser lords could defend, exploit and administer their newly acquired territories. Many were built along or close to existing lines of communication, including rivers, coastal routes, and former Roman roads, ensuring easy access and safe supply routes. Some, such as at Kenfig, later developed boroughs. Coity, Ogmore and Newcastle, however, never became large centres of settlement, remaining instead as manors and centres of administration once their role as frontier posts had diminished following the westwards expansion of Norman conquest and settlement.

Many of the first castles were mottes or mounds, and there are large numbers of this type of castle in south Wales. But the majority of Norman castles in lowland Glamorgan were ringworks - simple earth-and-timber embanked enclosures without the large mound or motte. The reason for this appears to be the geology of the region. Glaciation, with its deep drift deposits, stopped short of the southernmost areas of Glamorgan, especially in the Vale. The terrain here consists of a thin covering of soil over limestone, which was not sufficient to erect a large earthen motte. To the north, however, where glacial deposits are abundant, mottes outnumber ringworks.

 


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